“Like what?” I look at the kitchen doorway, but Mom isn’t there.
I’ve lived with my mom for sixteen years, but I still can’t predict her words or actions. No one can. Mom was born a lefty, but my grandmother tried to make her right-handed. My grandmother’s attempt was among the first of many to change immutable things in my mom. They all failed. Mom mounts a hostile resistance to other people’s ideas of what’s right.
Andy and Mike sat at the ends of a table, boots in the air like planted flags. The table a plethora of bread dust and cheese crumbs. Roschachs of coffee and wine. Bored little pillars of salt. Service was over but the smell of it remained on the cloth. Andy and Mike finished their cigarettes. They watched over the restaurant like kings. Stock bubbled away. Waiters slept in the linen closet, burred into white sheets.
Mike and Andy didn’t talk. They stared at the walls. A single artist decorated the restaurant. The painter was sleeping with the Maître d. Their portraits were all of spherical blue people reclining. They filled the restaurant with Rubenesque Smurfs. Mike examined a tattoo of knife scars. Andy flexed his boot. Inside were blisters already filling up with blood. They smiled at one another. Smoke trails chained them to the chandeliers. They picked off shattered melon fragments from their faces and hair. They picked it’s hard dinosaur skin from their whites.
When the boy grew tired of pirate stories before bed, he asked me to tell him a rock n roll story.
But it’s gotta be a little bit scary, he added.
So I told him about Black Sabbath.
Once there were these four lads from jolly old England, I told him, his room dark but for the red flickering glow of a spaceship nightlight. Good blokes, hard working dudes all. They were playing the blues, playing that heavy rock n roll in a band called Earth. But they weren’t having much luck.
After a Saturday night gig somewhere out in the moors or the swamps or whatever they’re called over there—foggy, anyway—their van broke down at a crossroads in the dark, moonless hours of the morning.
Dang this, they said, or something similar but British. They were bummed right out. They thought about throwing in the towel on the whole music thing, going back and spending their lives in the factories, losing the rest of their limbs piece by bloody piece.
Katie’s elderly aunt slept in the sun while her dad recited Red Fox punchlines, trying but failing to keep his voice down, although the remainder of the partygoers, resentfully sober 7th Day Adventists, retreated from the heat into the house where a gray bearded man in rainbow suspenders twisted up a miniature zoo of balloon animals. I couldn’t tell if it was the beer, the sun, or the air of religious judgment, but I began to feel dizzy. I tasted metal. There was a buzzing in my ear and my head felt like it was full of cotton. I caught a whiff of hot maple syrup, then putrefying garbage, both from an unknown source. Katie’s dad’s topic of conversation shifted from Red Fox to Rudy Ray Moore. I excused myself from the table. I opened the sliding glass door and was hit in the face with a delicious gust of cool, dry air, as well as a burst of excited voices. Sitting cross-legged in a semi-circle, children squealed in delight as the balloon man manipulated his cache of multi-colored latex, while the adults focused on gossip. I located the bathroom, closed and locked the door, and splashed cold water on my face and neck. I rinsed my mouth with water from the bathroom faucet. I could hear the screams and laughter and electricity of the party on the other side of the door. I didn’t want to go back out there to all of those faces and mouths and teeth, all of those ears and eyes. I flicked off the light, sat with my back to the AC vent, and decided to take a nap. If they wanted me, they would have to come and get me.
will never graduate from The Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He has a feather in his cap, but doesn’t have a PEN. He has (surprisingly) a roof over his head, but has never been in residence. He sometimes socializes, but has never had a fellowship. He knows a guy named Grant, but has never received one. He’s been called a MF, and an A, but doesn’t have a MFA. He professes to be (or not to be) these things, but he’s not a professor. He never says never. Less can be found at LinkedIn & SoundCloud.
the drunken mess of my little brother dragging him home in the night away from the party he had become militantly comical screaming in the faces of other party guests and laughing in a strangely glottal way i had never really heard from him before his breath humid with beer and wet cigarette butts his torn military jacket faded
This time, Mom got drunk first. In a pink cat-embroidered sweater, she delicately opened the Beefeater, like it was one of those antique music boxes. Dad watched from the doorway, grinning, flipping his mug in his hands, still pockmarked with paint from our chores yesterday. This was breakfast.
Hours later, she’s driving. We were off to the races today. She’s singing but it sounds like she gargled with gravel instead of Listerine. Her red nails clacked on the dashboard. Dad’s fumbling to light their cigarettes. It was a sunny day and the light cut hard into them.
To be honest, and I know you’re going to think me an apologist, but I didn’t mind them this way. I mean, was it healthy? Of course not. I will say this though – they made sure I was fed, read to, and had good shoes to wear. The drinking never hindered their jobs. They just liked to have a good time. Maybe a little too much, but it was days like this that they really let themselves go. If we were going to the races – they loved going to see the horses – then they were going to have gin instead of coffee, beer instead of apple juice.
I remember on this particular day that I wasn’t really enthusiastic about going though. The night before, they got me a Super Nintendo – I was the last kid in my class to have one and I was looking forward to finally playing some of the games they talked about. But, they said, I was still too young to be at home. I almost made the suggestion that I could stay at home and watch the alcohol for them, babysit the beer, made sure it didn’t run off somewhere. But I swallowed hard and said sure. They assured me we wouldn’t be gone too long. Just to the races. Just long enough to throw some money down.
Mom was usually the better drunk driver of the two, but today, something was amiss. She had swayed slightly on the turnpike and got honked at by a tractor trailer. Dad laughed the first time, but when she did it again a few miles later, he chastised her.
“Debbie,” he said, “quit driving like an idiot.”
She pouted slightly, held her cigarette like a dignitary. “No one’s driving like anything. I just want to get there.”
“The track will be there,” he said. “Let’s make sure WE get there.”
She huffed and looked in the rearview. “Sweetie, you good?”
I nodded. I was daydreaming about saving Zelda. I was doing the math on how many drinks they would be having at the track – the more they lost, the more they put down. I looked up and saw Mom still staring through the rearview.
“Fuck,” she said.
Dad turned. His open mouth spelled it out – red and blue lights. Not the first time, not the last time.
“Well, you’ve gone and done it now,” Dad said. “I should have driven, goddamn.”
“Stan,” Mom whispered.
“Pull over,” Dad said. “I’ll talk. You’re slurring like a goofball.”
The sun highlighted their faces and I remember thinking about how old they looked, how in the kitchen just an hour ago, they looked youthful, like they had just met at a school dance. But now there’s wrinkles, curves, spots where things like gin and bitters hide, and it made them look so alien – like they were a monster that couldn’t scare anyone or anything. They looked like old dogs that would hang out at gas stations and bake in the heat. It was sad. I remember that so well, and what happened next is something I could draw on any canvas with any instrument.
“Well, Stan,” she said, as the cop car whooped behind us.
“Oh, Jesus, don’t you even…”
“Wanna bet? We can make our own race.”
“Awh, hell, Debbie…” Dad smacked his face. The white paint was still on his knuckles, caught in his hairs. He couldn’t even wash his hands properly. But they always knew to make more ice. It’s weird – we notice the talents in people and they never notice it themselves.
“We’re only two miles away,” Mom said.
Dad sighed. He smoked his cigarette. He looked back at me.
“Hey. You know how you like going down hills in your Radio Flyer?”
Dad smacked his lips. “This is the Radio Flyer. And we’re going down together. You ready?”
“Sure, Dad,” I said. “Whatever you say.”
Mom took that as her cue. She sped down the road. The cop raced, too. Here we were – the two finest steeds of our time. Galloping. For glory and honor, for that sacred finish line, for the purse, one for the money. Two for the show. Not everyone can win. Mom clacked her nails on the dashboard some more and Dad sat, clutching his seatbelt, smoking away, like he had intentions on finishing the pack right then and there.
I know what you’re thinking – about me and them. I’m not going to say they were the best parents ever – far from. But they were mine. I had to hold onto that. There, in that spot, as a kid – I had no choice but to stay tethered. I wasn’t sure where else to go. I wouldn’t be sure for a while. Just had to accept it.
We picked up speed. It was such a gorgeous day. I pretended I was in my Radio Flyer, like Dad said. We glided past trees. I felt like I was going to win. I couldn’t think about anything else. I imagined my name in the newspaper – and the thought warmed me.
Kevin Richard White’s fiction has appeared in Hobart, Rejection Letters, X-R-A-Y and Hypertext among other places. He is a Flash Fiction Associate Editor at Barren Magazine. He lives in Philadelphia. His Twitter is @misterkrw.
We found your car in a ditch at 5 AM. Kevin’s truck illuminated your Saturn sedan covered in band stickers. Smoke leaked into the summer haze. The lights were off. Tire marks carved into the soggy earth. Auto liquids saturated the plush grass in burgundy. Kevin jolted out and bounded the hill, going No, no, no. Your door was stuck and dented inward. Your lifeless body slumped into the passenger seat. Your head smacked into the glass. Blood on the tan dash like mold on bread. Brown beer bottles all over the back seat. CD jewel cases busted and snapped on the floorboard. Lukewarm KFC chicken half-eaten in the cupholder. You know how laconic Kevin is, how much he can handle. When I heard his deep-throated scream, I fell to my knees. We knew that night it was on us, fuck. We didn’t hold you back. You always were an Aries.
On the internet I saw a freelancer say that a piece they wrote for a few hundred bucks “fucks” and I thought, when did we go from slaps to fucks?From the jump, I should disclose that I was a teenager in the 90s, so while attempting to solve the riddle of the new slang, my thought process was like this: I remember Ol’ Dirty Bastard (ODB) saying “My beats are slammin’ from the rugged programmin’” on his classic track “Hippa to da Hoppa,” and slamming, as an adjective for something that kicks ass, probably comes from fucking, because, well, fucking kicks ass. Other than slamming, we’ve got the RZA dropping “It’s bangin’ son, I said it’s bangin’ son,”on the intro to the Method Man cut “What the Blood Clot,” and banging obviously comes from fucking, right?
So now I’ve got a bit of a blind spot because, you know, the whole 90s thing, and I’ve got kids, so I’m paying attention to this slang, and I hear people talking about shit that slaps, and that’s probably referencing skin-slapping-skin-mid-coitus, and naturally, why not just go ahead and say that it fucks because ever since the 80s and 90s, when we were listening to Wu-Tang and talking about slamming and banging? We were always just talking about shit so good it made you want to fuck.
T.L. States lives in Tucson with his wife and kids, and he’s got marvelous shit at ‘Hobar’t, ‘The Daily Drunk’, ‘HAD’, ‘Rejection Letters’, and other places. He’s got a fledgling Twitter presence as @epmornsesh
I’m watching an old movie on my bed, holding my laptop close to my face to hear what the characters are saying.
It’s loud outside.
My apartment has no air conditioning or heat. But the weather is that breezy hardly-noticeable kind so my window is open and I can hear everything going on. The party down the block. The weekend traffic on Pacific Avenue. And the homeless man digging through the dumpster right outside my window.
Once a week he’s been doing this, since I moved in a month ago.
I know this because every time I hear him I have this fantasy.
A fantasy about getting up the guts to talk to him.
I will discover he is actually a genius and that he wrote the greatest L.A. novel of all time. But lost it in a house fire that also claimed his wife and children.
After the incineration (his words) he took to the streets and started garbage sifting– just as a form of therapy at first– but then discovered it to be the purest form of artistic expression. An art form that he would then pass on to me.